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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

little mosque poems - mohja kahf

Little Mosque Poems

By Mohja Kahf

In my little mosque
there is no room for me
to pray. I am
turned away faithfully
times a day

My little mosque:
so meager
in resources, yet
so eager
to turn away
a woman
or a stranger

My little mosque
is penniless, behind on rent
Yet it is rich in anger
every Friday, coins of hate
are generously spent

My little mosque is poor yet
every week we are asked to give
to buy another curtain
to partition off the women,
or to pave another parking space

I go to the Mosque of the Righteous
I have been going there all my life
I have been the Cheerleader of the Righteous Team
I have mocked the visiting teams cruelly
I am the worst of those I complain about:
I am a former Miss Mosque Banality

I would like to build
a little mosque
without a dome
or minaret
I'd hang a sign
over the door:
Bad Muslims
welcome here
Come in, listen
to some music,
the soul's longing,
have a cigarette

I went to the mosque
when no one was there
and startled two angels
coming out of a broom closet
"Are they gone now?" one said
They looked relieved

My great big mosque
has a chandelier
big as a Christmas tree
and a jealously guarded
lock and key
I wonder why
everyone in it
looks just like me

My little mosque
has a bouncer at the door
You have to look pious
to get in

My little mosque
has a big sense of humor

I went to the mosque
when no one was there
The prayer space was soft and serene
I heard a sound like lonely singing
or quiet sobbing. I heard a leafy rustling
I looked around
A little Quran
on a low shelf
was reciting itself

My little mosque has a Persian carpet
depicting trees of paradise
in the men's section, which you enter
through a lovely classical arch
The women's section features
well, nothing

Piety dictates that men enter
my little mosque through magnificent columns
Piety dictates
that women enter
my little mosque
through the back alley,
just past the crack junkie here
and over these fallen garbage cans

My little mosque used to be democratic
with a rotating imam
we chose from among us every month
Now my little mosque has an appointed imam
trained abroad
No one can dispute his superior knowledge

We used to use our minds
to understand Quran
My little mosque discourages
that sort of thing these days
We have official salaried translators
for God

I used to carry around a little mosque
in the chambers of my heart
but it is closed indefinitely pending
extensive structural repairs

I miss having a mosque,
driving by and seeing cars lining the streets,
people double-parking, desperate
to catch the prayer in time
I miss noticing, as they dodge across traffic
toward the mosque entrance between
buses and trucks,
their long chemises fluttering,
that trail of gorgeous fabrics Muslims leave,
gossamer, the colors of hot lava, fantastic shades
from the glorious places of the earth
I miss the stiff, uncomfortable men
looking anywhere but at me when they meet me,
and the double-faced women
full of judgment, and their beautiful
children shining
with my children. I do

I don't dream of a perfect mosque
I just want roomfuls of people to kiss every week
with the kisses of Prayer and Serenity,
and a fat, multi-trunked tree
collecting us loosely for a minute under
its alive and quivering canopy

Once, God applied
for a janitor position at our mosque,
but the board turned him down
because he wasn't a practicing

Once a woman entered
my little mosque
with a broken arm,
a broken heart,
and a very short skirt
Everyone rushed over to her
to make sure
she was going to cover her legs

Marshmallows are banned
from my little mosque
because they might
contain gelatin derived from pork enzymes
but banality is not banned,
and yet verily,
banality is worse than marshmallows

Music is banned
at my little mosque
because it is played on
the devil's stringed instruments,
although a little music
softens the soul
and lo, a hardened soul
is the devil's taut drumskin

Once an ignorant Bedouin
got up and started to pee against a wall
in the Prophet's Mosque in Medina
The pious protective Companions leapt
to beat him
The Prophet bade them stop
A man is entitled to finish a piss
even if he is an uncouth idiot,
and there are things
more important in a mosque than ritual purity

My little mosque thinks
the story I just narrated
cannot possibly be true
and a poet like me cannot possibly
have studied Sahih al-Bukhari

My little mosque
thinks a poem like this must be
written by the Devil
in cahoots with the Zionists,
NATO, and the current U.S. administration,
as part of the Worldwide Orientalist Plot
to Discredit Islam
Don't they know
at my little mosque
that this is a poem
written in the mirror
by a lover?

My little mosque
is fearful to protect itself
from the bricks of bigots
through its window
Doesn't my little mosque know
the way to protect its windows
is to open its doors?

I know the bricks of bigots
are real
I wish I could protect my little mosque
with my body as a shield

I love my dysfunctional little mosque
even though I can't stand it

My little mosque loves Arab men
with pure accents and beards
Everyone else is welcome
as long as
they understand that Real Islam
has to come from an Arab man

My little mosque loves Indian
and Pakistani men with Maududi in their pockets
Everyone else is welcome because as we all know
there is no discrimination in Islam

My little mosque loves women
who know that Islam liberated them
fourteen hundred years ago and so
they should live like seventh-century Arabian women
or at least dress
like pre-industrial pre-colonial women
men can adjust with the times

My little mosque loves converts
especially white men and women
who give "Why I embraced Islam" lectures
to be trotted out as trophies
by the Muslim pom-pom squad
of Religious One-up-man-ship

My little mosque faints at the sight
of pale Bosnian women suffering
across the sea
Black women suffering
across the street
do not move
my little mosque much

I would like to find a little mosque
where my Christian grandmother
and my Jewish great-uncle the rebbe
and my Buddhist cousin
and my Hindu neighbor
would be as welcome
as my staunchly Muslim mom and dad

My little mosque has young men and women
who have nice cars, nice homes, expensive educations,
and think they are the righteous rageful
Victims of the World Persecution

My little mosque offers courses on
the Basics of Islamic Cognitive Dissonance
"There is no racism in Islam" means
we won't talk about it
"Islam is unity" means
There's so much to learn
Class is free and meets every week

I don't dream of a perfect mosque, only
a few square inches of ground
that will welcome my forehead,
no questions asked

My little mosque is as decrepit
as my little heart. Its narrowness
is the narrowness in me. Its windows
are boarded up like the part of me that prays

I went to the mosque
when no one was there
No One was sweeping up
She said: This place is just a place
Light is everywhere. Go, live in it
The Mosque is under your feet,
wherever you walk each day

Parts of this poem have been published in Azizah Magazine.

Mohja Kahf's first book of poetry is E-Mails from Scheherazad (University Press of Florida, 2003). She was born in Syria and came to the United States in 1971 with her parents. Now a sedate professor of literature at the University of Arkansas, Dr. Kahf used to be one of the baton-twirling sisters in her college alma mater's MSA chapter.


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